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Hope in the Dark

Four Strategies for Getting Through Trials or Difficult Times


Resilience, buoyancy, determination, hope: these related concepts share an ability to pick yourself back up or to keep moving in the face of adversity. Perhaps you’ve seen sales training that focuses on the importance of “buoyancy” in the face of the rejection so often experienced in selling. Maybe you’ve heard one of countless athletes recount the impact their “determination” had on their journey to success. You’ve perhaps seen “resilient” used to describe kids who recover quickly from life-altering challenges and keep smiling. Growing up, I heard my Finnish relatives talk about their sisu - loosely translated to “intestinal fortitude” - that kept them pushing forward when it would be easier to give up. And I’ve watched hope, up-close-and-personal, bring people through unbelievably difficult times. 

“Hope in the darkness,” “rising to the challenge,” “persisting despite the odds,” these are all things people do that involve something more than day-to-day strength. This past year and a half has brought us plenty of opportunities to tap into those resources, and perhaps you’ve been as inspired as I have by the many examples of resilience around us. Sometimes, when watching from afar, the darkness seems so great that we wonder how the person going through it can find the light to keep going. And sometimes, when we’re in the midst of that darkness, finding the light of hope to hold on to can be difficult.

If you have not yet checked out our upcoming event on resilience and hope in the darkness, I invite you to join us at that.

In keeping with the theme of our mid-day event on Friday, June 25th, which offers a session on resilience and a session on finding hope in the tough times, let me offer you four strategies for dealing with difficulties at work or in our daily lives. 


Keep your eyes on the prize.

Keep your eyes on the horizon; look to the future; focus on the big picture or the end goal. One of the ways we can get past a tough patch is by staying focused on the end goal. 

  • The sweat of a daily workout is worth it if I prize the end goal of my healthy self.
  • The daily labor of a difficult project, even the extra burst of effort before it’s done is easier to swallow when I remember how great the expected outcome of this project is for our organization or our customers. 
  • The challenge of building or restoring a relationship is an easier investment when I consider the anticipated outcome.
  • The first century writer Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me.” He was able to endure difficult times including unjust imprisonment, because he stayed focused on the end goal.

A setback I encountered recently required a high investment of extra hours of work to recover. The work itself was hard, and the extra investment of time and energy at a moment when I had hoped to be focused on other things was discouraging. In my frustration, it was tempting to dwell on the load to be carried or the bitterness I was feeling about having to carry it, but focusing on the load or the bitterness did not make the load lighter or the experience more pleasant. Instead, by focusing on the goal and on how much brighter things would be when we reached it, I was able to dig in and keep going.

If you find yourself in a dark or frustrating time, focusing on the prize to be won at the end of this painful period may help. 


Treat the temporary as temporary.

Ever felt the painful sensation that comes from accidentally smacking your funny bone? The activity of hitting your funny bone is likely not leading you towards a greater end goal, it just hurts. 

When you’re in a moment that is uncomfortable or painful, one technique to help yourself through is to acknowledge that this is a season. This is temporary. 

As with a stinging funny bone, this, too, shall pass. Sometimes our coping mechanisms include putting extra attention where it hurts. Sometimes our coping mechanism involves favoring the injured limb. Your coping mechanism may involve dedicating extra time and energy to addressing this particular pain. Or by contrast it may involve spending a focused amount of time thinking about anything but this pain. 

  • Need to focus on a task you don’t relish or don’t want? Remember that it’s only one of your tasks, and when it’s done, it will be over.
  • Assigned to a project that involves work you simply don’t like to do? Remember that it’s temporary - all projects have a beginning, middle, and end, so this one, too, will end, and you can move on to something else.
  • Working in a relationship that is awkward and uncomfortable? Remember that this stage of your relationship is temporary. With work and time, it can get better from here. 
  • Songwriter Pete Seeger wrote the song performed by The Byrds “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)” using the words from the book of Ecclesiastes. These words carry a reminder that there is a season for pain, for loss, for toil, for discomfort, and that there is a season to cry, just as there is a season to laugh. 

The approach here is to time-box it. To remind ourselves that this is not a new permanent. That it is a temporary thing. 

How many of us got through the last 14 months of the pandemic knowing that the separation from our families or loved ones was temporary, and that we would have opportunities to be together again in the future? 

Sometimes it is easier to make it through our dark moments when we know they are temporary. Just as the darkest hour of the night is temporary, and is followed by the break of dawn, when we recall that our trials are also temporary, they can be easier to bear. 


Look for the learning. 

The idea from this strategy is that in a moment of discomfort or of pain, look for ways in which you can grow or get smarter or become stronger. Are there lessons from this moment that you can apply to either avoid this discomfort in the future, perhaps to help someone else avoid this discomfort in the future, or to simply be a better, stronger, kinder, more compassionate human?

  • Is this task challenging for you because it involves a new tool, new technology, or new skill? What are you learning that will make the next task easier?
  • Are you in the midst of a difficult project? What are you learning from this project? What techniques or project leadership skills or risk management competencies are you gaining that will help you for your next project? 
  • Are you recovering from a setback of some sort? As you seek to regroup, invest a fair amount of head time and heart time in reflecting on the setback and its causes and its impact so you can avoid it in the future or so you can draw out lessons to help you as you move forward?
  • King Solomon, who ruled over the united kingdom of Israel until his death in 931 BC was often described as exceptionally wise and exceptionally wealthy. His writings on wisdom are captured in the book of Proverbs, and one of those is, “Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.”

How do you go about getting this wisdom? Tools like retrospectives and lookbacks allow us to reflect on what went well and what we will do differently next time. Engaging with others who offer a different perspective can help us learn things we might not have seen on our own. Reading and taking time to research similar circumstances or similar experiences can help us find patterns and trends that can help us learn. Journaling or writing our thoughts and reflections can help us put words around our learnings. Being humble enough to admit what we don’t know and being curious enough to seek out that knowledge are also great tools to help us make the most of the learning opportunity.

One of my personal life philosophies is that every day that I end smarter than I started it is a good day! Not all the learnings are fun, and some lessons are downright painful, but knowing that I’ve learned something from the trial can make it easier to get through.


Phone a friend. 

Whether we are looking for perspective or empathy, connecting with another human during times of difficulty can make those difficult moments more bearable. If someone is outside the discomfort, they might be able to help me reset my eyes on the prize. If someone has been through it before, they might be able to point to the temporary nature of this trial. If someone looks at the world from a perspective that is different from mine, they may be able to offer me an alternative lens as I look for the learning. Or, they may simply be able to sit next to me, and offer the comfort that can only be felt when someone sits with you in your grief or pain so you are not alone. 

  • Not looking forward to that task or chore? See if you can invite someone to work on it with you or alongside you to divide the work or at least provide company.
  • Working on a project that you don’t relish? Stop thinking about the work itself, and focus for a bit on the people who are also working on that project. How can you connect with them so that you can be more engaged in the project work?
  • Feeling lonely or disconnected from people you care about, and tired of working remotely? Pick up the phone and give someone a call, or make an arrangement to meet someone for an outdoor coffee, walking meeting, or working lunch or ice cream break.
  • Wrestling with a setback or a challenge that has you feeling picked on or singled out or discouraged? Reach out to a friend who has been through something similar or who cares enough to simply listen.
  • Writing under the name of Qoheleth some few hundred years before the Common Era, a collector of wisdom wrote a collection of poetry and prose called Ecclesiastes in which the author refused to back down from the tough questions of life. One of those morsels of insight is this: “Two are better than one, / because they have a good return for their labor: / If either of them falls down, / one can help the other up. / But pity anyone who falls / and has no one to help them up.”

In the last few years, I’ve been blessed to have opportunities to engage in conversations with other new business owners. After 13 years of running this business, I have stories and lessons and learnings I can gladly share with others who are just beginning their journey, and I can offer encouraging words or just the comfort of being there for those who are facing the inevitable challenges of business ownership. And I know that part of why I can do that today is because others were there for me when I was going through challenging times. This technique of phoning a friend works both ways - reach out if you need help during a difficult time, and reach out if you can offer help for someone else going through a difficult time.


Not all of these techniques work in all situations, but perhaps among them, if you find yourself going through a dark time, they may help you build resilience, or buoyancy, or your ability to see it through to the end. 

Certainly, throughout the recent months, many of us have leveraged all of these. We’ve handled difficult conversations and awkward work situations with our eyes on the prize of successfully getting through. We’ve put up with separation from colleagues and loved ones knowing that it was only temporary. We’ve used these quieter moments to re-prioritize our lives and have expressed gratitude at learning to focus on what matters. And then, to ensure that our behaviors match the values we say we hold, we reached out by phone - and by any means available - to connect with the friends in our lives and to comfort each other.


Topics: Faith, Sinikka Waugh, Business Skills & Business Acumen, Communication & Collaboration

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! contactus@yourclearnextstep.com




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